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Friday, May 17, 2013


Greta Gerwig in FRANCES HA
Courtesy of IFC Films

2013, 86 minutes
Rated R for sexual references and language

Review by Joshua Handler

Frances Ha is the latest film from director Noah Baumbach, best known for writing and directing dark comedies such as The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, and Margot at the Wedding and writing and producing for Wes Anderson on such films as Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouFrances Ha is substantially lighter than Squid, Margot, and Greenberg, but is still insightful, entertaining, and sad.

The film follows 27-year-old Frances (Greta Gerwig) as she tries to figure out what to do with her life.  Needless to say, the story is very loose and light and does not follow a traditional story structure at all.  It is like a series of scenes strung together to make a cohesive whole.  The film was shot very cheaply on a Canon 5D Mark II and in black and white.  Frances Ha is very much an homage to the French New Wave due to its youthful energy and narrative looseness, and Woody Allen’s Manhattan, as it is in its own way a love letter to New York City.

Greta Gerwig plays Frances and gives possibly the best performance of her career to date.  While she essentially plays the same character in every film, she has completely mastered it and in Frances Ha, really explores the inner anguish and sense of utter hopelessness that Frances feels each and every day.  She is an incredibly talented actress who also has impeccable comedic timing.  The dynamite supporting cast also goes a long way.

Very little of Frances Ha’s story is anything new and is almost too light and aimless for its own good, but it still manages to capture enough truth, darkness, humor, and honesty to make it mostly overcome its narrative flaws.  Many films about aimless mid-20s New Yorkers are not as hopeless as Frances Ha gets.  At times the film is uniquely depressing.  Co-writers Baumbach and Gerwig really capture Frances’ feelings, and through the script and Baumbach’s direction, make the audience feel what she is feeling.  Baumbach never lets the film careen into the “too depressing” territory because he steers it back on the comedy track.  The carefree sense of happiness that Baumbach and Gerwig infuse the film with is infectious.  Leaving the film, I felt energized and happy.

Overall, Frances Ha is a slight film in Baumbach’s filmography, but is nonetheless very entertaining and features a brilliant performance by Greta Gerwig.  This movie will not be for everyone, but for those Baumbach fans out there, you will not be disappointed. 

This film was shown as part of the Rooftop Film Series, which features early screenings of hot new independent films straight from the early year festival circuit.  This screening was held on the Open Road Rooftop at the New Design High School and featured the band Brazos and a Q&A with Baumbach and Gerwig following the film.  Tickets for the upcoming films can be purchased here.  It was a truly unique event that makes for a great, and cheap at $13, night out in NYC.  There was an after-party with free drinks served that I did not attend.


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